There are difficult conversations you must have with yourself. There are thoughts you have that rage and burn until you address them. I’ve blogged pretty openly for the last five years about my romantic life, my dating disasters, but I only ever tell you as much as I want you to know. I often wonder where to draw that line. This is not a confessional, but I realise I’ve never before talked explicitly about the time a date made me do something I really didn’t want to do.
I find the past a strange animal. I look back on previous events in my life like they happened to someone else. Impassively. Only a few things truly feel like they still belong to me – the 7th July bombings being one, I still feel that, I know that was me – but others…
Well, if I didn’t have the pics or the texts or, of course the blog, to prove it a lot of the time, I’d wonder whether I was there at all.
I feel a little like this about my date with Joe. I know I was there, because I blogged about it (almost a year later) but even then I glossed over what happened in a race to get to the punchline.
In fact, it gets a throwaway paragraph:
The night I went home with Joe, back in 2010, I had made him order shots to loosen him up. He was so earnest and clearly fancied me, but needed a bit of encouragement. Was I taking advantage of him? Maybe. I had dated regularly for quite a few months by that point. I wasn’t embittered but I knew how to play the long game. Joe wanted to take me home but wasn’t quite sure whether he should or would have the courage. I gave him that. I climbed into the lion’s mouth.
As we made the long journey back to his, I lost enthusiasm. My judgment was clouded with beer and tiredness, but by the time the train had chugged out of another suburban London station, I knew it would be too late to turn back. The way home from the station to his house was even more convoluted – I remember busy roads and subways and waiting at pelican crossings, hopping from foot to foot to both keep out the cold and shake my libido into action. I remember seeing Canary Wharf gleaming in the distance, in the wrong place. My compass was off.
It’s no surprise, then, that once we were back in his room – a staid and charmless cell that backed onto an eerily silent wood – I’d feel too fatigued to do anything, let alone fuck. I let his hands and his tongue wander over me and reciprocated his kisses long enough to be polite – it felt like poor form to do otherwise – before persuading him it was late and we needed to sleep as he had work in the morning.
“I’ll set my alarm an hour early,” he whispered in my ear as he turned out the light. “I’m not finished with you yet.”
I didn’t realise it was a threat.
As I mentioned in the earlier blog, his alarm did indeed go off an hour early. I pretended to sleep on and, as I described, he pawed me for quite a considerable amount of time.
Perhaps ‘pawed’ is the wrong word.
A cat paws you as it tries to settle in your lap; dogs paw you as they nag you for a walk. Joe’s attempts to wake me started off gentle but the more I refused to play ball, the angrier and more frustrated I became. In a way, it was quite comical playing dead while Joe tapped and prodded me. It soon turned into pinching and putting his hands where you really shouldn’t on a sleeping person. In the original blog, I said “So I give in” – what persuaded me? It was when he gripped my throat with his hand, and started to gently squeeze, leaning in to say “I know you’re awake”.
I feigned ignorance, trying not to open my eyes too quickly, even though I was not frightened, just… surprised he thought this was OK. This guy was clearly determined I wasn’t getting away without handing over my payment for my bed for the evening.
The sad thing about this, for me, anyway, looking back now as I do, is I didn’t lie there impassively and just let him get on with it; he expected more than that. I had to show enthusiasm. I point-blank refused to let him penetrate me and I declined to do it to him either, but that was the only bargaining he’d allow. I had to go along with everything else.
I wouldn’t let this happen to me now, of course. It is scant comfort. The problem with the present, and living in it, is you don’t ever think you can be stronger than you are at that exact moment. You think this is as tough as you’ll ever get; you don’t know where you’ll find more. You don’t have the foresight to see that future you would have grabbed this guy by the throat and told him to get his fucking hands off. But again, this is present me talking, what do I know? I’d probably do exactly the same again.
Mercifully, for me, Joe was so excited by my barely compliant, hungover state that I didn’t have to endure him for too long. When it was over – for him, at least, he wasn’t too concerned with me reaching any final destination and I would’ve found it impossible anyway – he acted like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. He offered me tea and toast, complimenting my body like I was a nice vase he just noticed on his mother’s mantlepiece.
I had to wait as he showered because the front door was locked and, despite desperate searching, I couldn’t find the key. We trudged to the station together through streets unfamiliar to me, my skin still burning from his intrusive touch and his stale mouth.
His train came first and I watched it pull away, knowing then I’d see him again, at least once. Seriously. I was lonely; it was autumn. I told myself I must’ve got it wrong. He must have really fancied me to act that way, and that at least he hadn’t been overly cruel, and it was just sex – a small sacrifice to make.
And hadn’t I been the one to get him drunk? Didn’t I give him all he needed to take advantage? Who was controlling who? Wasn’t what happened merely what he was owed? I knew I’d give him another chance to show me he could be normal. Like I said, you only ever feel as strong, or potentially strong, as you do at that precise moment.
This all seems distant to me now, but I kind of remember the feeling. At that point, almost exactly five years ago, I didn’t realise I would grow up to be someone else.
And I did see him again, the second date even more painful than the first. My earlier compliance had given him an unattractive confidence. He thought he could just have me now and, disappointingly, I thought he probably deserved me. So I went home with him again, and it all played out exactly as before, except this time when his alarm went off, I woke up immediately without letting him grab my throat. Annoyed with myself for being unable to fight him off again, I fulfilled my duty but meted it out like a punishment, to make sure he’d never forget me.
We both knew something had changed. Whether he had realised what he’d done before I will never know, but we walked to the station in absolute silence and he looked at me with haunted eyes as I boarded my train.
I never heard from him again.
When I originally posted the blog, the comments were almost universally against me. I had got him drunk, taken him home, and then slated him for being boring, or asking me if I ever wanked into my running shorts. Nobody seemed to notice the part where I had sex against my will. I knew then I’d have to wait to tell the full story, until I could be sure it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if nobody ‘got’ it. And now I have. And I’m glad.
One last thing: fuck you, Joe.